In hindsight over 40 years later Star Trek is clearly the most successful science fiction television series of all time — but that wasn’t always the case. In the early 70s (before Star Wars) it was looking like Star Trek was pretty much dead. The only sign of life the series was in 1974 when Filmation ran a well done but poorly rated Saturday morning animated series. But then on September 13th, 1975 sci fi fans had a new option, and for this fanboy Space:1999 captured my heart for the next two years that it ran. Here are nine reasons why I think the show deserves some respect in the 21st Century:
Academy Award Winner Martin Landau
A little know fact is that Martin Landau was up for the role of Spock on the original Star Trek series but turned it down. Prior to Space:1999 Landau’s first film appearance was in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest in 1959 — from there he went quite a few roles including playing roles in The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Mission: Impossible. In stark contrast to Shatner as Kirk, Landau doesn’t over act which gives his role that wonderful bit of tension and realism.
James Bond Girl Catherine Schell
Look there’s no debate that Spock was a breakthrough alien character, but Maya the Metamorph wasn’t just a space alien — she was drop dead beautiful! I’ll also grant you that as a plot device having Maya transform into a every creature from a lion to a Rottweiler dog was a bit of a stretch, but Schell always brought a sense of glamor to the screen that none of the ladies of the Star Trek universe never quite possessed.
Moonbase Alpha: An Architectural Triump
Star Trek could never be topped when it came to spaceships, but they always fell flat when it came to space stations. In the Star Trek universe space stations are always a bit of a joke — one is reminded on the K7 space station which even features a bar, tribbles and of course upset Klingons. Yet Moonbase Alpha takes a way station and makes it the center of the show. In fact what I love about the moonbase is that it’s really the control center for Earth to dump nuclear waste on the moon, so it’s not just a giant hotel. I think also because the show was set in the near future that it just felt much more realistic than the Star Trek sets. In fact it was so good that 2001: A Space Odyssey director Stanley Kubrick threatened to sue.
The Best Disco Riff in an Opening Theme
The first season of Space:1999 started off with a powerful opening theme by Barry Gray. While Star Trek had an amazing soundtrack Gray brings things to the next level and really brings the full sound of an orchestra to the opening titles: The result makes a television show feel like a Hollywood film. The second season featured Derek Wadsworth who wasn’t a slacker: He got his start doing session work for the likes of George Harrison and Diana Ross and would then work his way up to be an arranger for The Rolling Stones and Kate Bush.
Now Playing: The Eagles!
When most people think of the 70s and the Eagles the first thing that comes to mind is Don Henley moaning on about the Hotel California — however any fanboy worth his salt will cherish the image of one of the coolest fictional spacecraft ever devised for the small screen: The Eagle Transporter. Yes Star Trek had that cute shuttlecraft, but but the Eagle was always a beautifully designed work horse rather than a show horse. For starters the modular design of the spaceship is brilliant — the ship has the ability to switch between a crew compartment or hauling radioactive waste. Of course there were other choices as well which included a special reconnaissance unit, a rescue compartment, a laboratory unit and of course my favorite mod the combat Eagle.
The Show That Wasn’t Afraid of Horror…
Thanks to Twilight Zone and Lost in Space the original Star Trek avoided horror as a theme — however Space:1999 embraced it with gusto. The second season got a bit silly with the episode The Rules Of Luton which featured terrorizing plant creatures, however the first season had some great screams. My personal favorite is Death’s Other Dominion which features a planet of aliens that live forever — until they leave the atmosphere of the planet! Sadly this leads to a very disturbing scene when our happy crew takes a native to visit their nearby moonbase.
I’ve Seen the Future and It’s Nuclear Powered
When Space:1999 came out noted author Isaac Asimov blasted the very notion that a nuclear explosion could push the moon out of Earth’s orbit. But as much as I love Asimov while that plot device was admittedly very weak the underlying notion that nuclear power was going to be essential is something that we can relate to today. Keep in mind that this concept was included well before anyone had popularized the idea of climate change or peak oil. Once more while it’s an expensive solution, there’s something very appealing to the idea of putting radioactive waste on the moon. Also this goes to the core about what I loved about the show: It takes place in the near future (24 years later) instead of a century or two from now.
The Commlock: Don’t Leave Home Without It
Eons before the iPhone 4 would feature FaceTime the crew of Moonbase Alpha used their handy Commlock device to have video chats with each other. Now I’ll grant you that the video on the Commlock was limited to black-and-white, however this handy gadget also acted as a door opener and identity system. When you think about it the Commlock is much cooler than the Communicator devices on Star Trek that only have audio.
Boys Like Their Toys — and Boy Were These Great Toys!
I grew up with this series as a child and I have to admit that the merchandise associated with the show was half the fun! On the high end you had the Dinky die cast metal models of the Eagles, yet there was also the oversized Eagle made by Mattel which was over two feet long. My other favorite from the era was the MPC Moonbase Alpha model kit which not only allowed you to build your own Alpha but also included the cutest little Eagles to place on the landing pads.
Sadly the last episode of Space:1999 aired during November 1977 and a chapter of my childhood came to an end. However in May of that year a new film came out called Star Wars which would re-energize science fiction for decades to come right as Space:1999 was fading away. However for that short period of time from 1975 until 1977 Space:1999 was THE best game in town.